Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Three Instances of Church and Anti-Communist Opposition: Hungary, Poland and Romania

Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Three Instances of Church and Anti-Communist Opposition: Hungary, Poland and Romania

Article excerpt

Abstract: The article analyzes the relationship between the dominant Churches from Hungary, Poland and Romania and the opposition to Communist regimes. The Churches - seen as institutional actors of civil society - are analyzed in terms of their material and symbolic resources which may act as prerequisites for the initiation or support of oppositional activities. The relation of accommodation between the Church and the Communist regimes installed in the three countries are also analysed comparatively. The analysis follows the politically significant behaviour of the three Churches and the corresponding attitudes and measures developed by the Communist authorities. The article discusses Poland as the only case where the Church has been actively involved, on multiple levels, in oppositional activities. The distinctive feature in the Polish case is given by the complex ties developed by the Church with the remaining actors of the anti-Communist opposition, as well as by the enduring presence of religious imagery within the Polish society. Hungary and Romania displayed only a modest activity in the direction of religion-based opposition, being marked by isolated acts of defiance from individual members of the clergy in the context of an overall passivity of the Churches.

Key Words: Church, religion, civil society, communism, opposition, nationalism, Orthodoxy, Catholicism


This paper analyzes comparatively the involvement of Church in generating and supporting opposition to Communist regimes in Hungary, Poland and Romania. The Church is assumed to belong to the civil sphere, along with an interpretation that sees religious authority as separate from the political power. The possible participation of Church in political matters does not disprove its civic status, as it would not disqualify any civic organization dealing with political issues, for as long as attaining governing positions does not become its explicit objective. Church is treated as essentially belonging to civil society, yet as an actor which may choose, at various moments, to interfere in matters that exceed the exclusive sphere of spiritual life. Such matters may be general social and political issues.1

The question of the link between religion and politics has always had tremendous relevance, both at the level of practice, and that of the discourse. Such debates also make sense in the context of re-discussing religion's role in enhancing and supporting the democratic practices reinstalled in the formerly Communist bloc. Moreover, as Ungureanu showed, the status of religion in its connection to the political enterprise is ever more present in the debates over a European Union's constitution where Christianity would be granted recognition.2 This is a very actual and complex debate which, as the aforementioned author observed, entails many nuances, going beyond a secular-Christian argument to including normative and practical concerns like religion's potential to support pluralism and the necessity to ensure the avoidance of discrimination.

Civil society is a disputed term and as such it supports a variety of definitions and interpretations.3 The literature abounds in competing approaches and definitional innovations around the idea of civil society. It is useful to identify within the existing body of literature the various levels at which civil society can be conceptualized.4 A first level is that of social reality: in this sense, civil society represents a social sphere that entails a certain degree of articulation, has an institutional expression (well established or in the process of gaining substance), is composed of identifiable actors, and it is guided by and promotes its own set of values. At this level, one may look for patterns of behavior and interconnectedness. Creation of and memberships in associations, what we tend to call "civic participation" are observable, measurable and relevant facets of civil society. …

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